Each week, Digital Spy rounds up the biggest downloadable gaming releases with reviews and trailers. This week's games include a world-shifting platformer, a re-release of a strategy classic and a new take on the match-3 sub-genre.
Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams
Developer: Black Forest Games
Price: 1,200 Microsoft Points (£10.30 / $15)
Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams is a platforming title which boasts an interesting core mechanic. You control and switch between the two sisters, each with noticeable differences.
As the 'cute' Giana, the world is gloomy and unpleasant. She can pirouette, meaning she has a floaty jump. Switch to the 'punky' sister - whose special ability is a fireball dash move - and the surroundings oddly become cheery, bright and all-around more colourful.
Shifting between the dual worlds is essential and fairly novel. A massive gate or a lack of platforms, for example, may hinder your progress in one world, but switch to the other and the path may be open and clear.
The game looks and sounds great, but to put it simply, it's just not that fun at all. Initial levels are quite relaxing but it isn't long at all until the stages become brutal and punishing.
Far more often than not, it feels like trial-and-error - there are sections you just won't get through the first or even the tenth time until you memorise and nail the sequence of moves and world-switching with pinpoint accuracy.
That you have infinite lives and there are regular checkpoints implies that Twisted Dreams is meant to be challenging. But when the platforming segments are designed to be deliberately confusing, not at all helped by the hectic and distracting backgrounds, playing the game becomes an increasingly frustrating experience.
The other significant knock against it is that the levels are too long - to the point where most become tedious and boring before you get anywhere near the end, as you make slow progress through particularly tough sections.
Twisted Dreams will drive you mad. You rarely get the sense of reward when you finish a level - just a huge wave of relief that you don't have to suffer through that again.
> Buy 'Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams' from the Xbox Live Marketplace
Age of Empires II: HD Edition
Developer: Hidden Path Entertainment / Ensemble Studios
Platforms: PC (Steam)
Price: £14.99 / $19.99 (released April 9)
Hidden Path Entertainment is handed the responsibility of sprucing up Ensemble Studios' real-time strategy title as Age of Empires II gets a high definition re-release.
Those who wax nostalgic about the 1999 isometric 2D classic will find that from a gameplay perspective, virtually nothing has been changed.
Featuring both the core game and the Conquerors expansion, Age of Empires II sees you commanding a civilisation in the Middle Ages with the objective of overpowering your rivals in battle.
Gathering resources such as wood and gold is essential for constructing buildings, houses and food are a must to recruit new villagers and soldiers, and advancing through Ages (from the Dark Age all the way to the Imperial Age) opens up new technologies and upgrades to aid you in both attack and defence.
It goes significantly deeper than that (from the numerous unit types to the individual benefits and weaknesses each civilisation has), and even in 2013, Age of Empires II is a lot of fun and holds up pretty well, even if it has been surpassed in the genre since then.
A solid multiplayer component is included in the package, and one that will no doubt sweeten the deal.
Meanwhile, visual improvements are fairly modest but noticeable. New textures scale well to higher resolutions and it's certainly a better-looking game, but it's also not the reason why you should buy the HD version.
Instead, the re-release should be considered by anyone with an itch to revisit the well-loved game or anyone looking for a new and entertaining strategy title at a reasonably low price.
> Buy 'Age of Empires II: HD Edition' from the Steam Store
Developer: Cube Roots
Platforms: Steam (PC - reviewed, Mac, Linux), iPad
Price: £1.99 / $2.99
Little-known indie developer Cube Roots takes a stab at the ever-growing match-3 sub-genre with Dungeon Hearts.
The ideas surrounding the puzzle-RPG hybrid are fairly simple to grasp. Your party of four must take on a series of monster encounters and obliterate them by matching coloured runes that scroll from the right.
If the runes fall from the left side, they're gone forever, so you have to be quick-minded to pull off chain attacks and boost your damage modifier.
Things are complicated by skulls, which damage your characters if they reach the end, as well as an assortment of runes that can effect your party in negative ways - such as silence them from performing a special attack.
The game is not especially deep, but it's put together well and ramps up as enemies get progressively tougher. You're rarely given a moment's rest, and the addition of permadeath enhances the frantic nature of the fight when you're on the brink of death, desperately trying to salvage your good run.
Perhaps the biggest issue is that playing the PC version is less than ideal, as the mouse controls are clunky and never really feel comfortable.
Though we didn't try the iPad version, we feel confident in saying a fast-moving game that involves dragging and activating gems on a scrolling highway would benefit massively with a touch screen.
As it stands, the Steam copy of Dungeon Hearts fails to fulfil its potential. It's visually charming if a bit bland, and the core mechanics are a solid base for what should be an enjoyable game, but it ends up being little more than a decent distraction.
> Buy 'Dungeon Hearts' from the Steam Store
What downloadable releases have you been playing recently? Add a comment in the space below!